Malawi became the butt of some gentle humour at Nelson Mandela’s funeral Sunday, in the wake of South African President Jacob Zuma’s recent gaffe implying the small African nation was backward.
Zuma triggered a diplomatic spat in October during a speech when he sought to persuade South African motorists to accept a highway toll plan around Johannesburg.
“This is Johannesburg. It’s not some national road in Malawi,” Zuma said.
The remark left a bitter taste that still carried the potential for awkwardness when Malawi President Joyce Banda rose to deliver a eulogy at Mandela’s funeral.
Her tribute was well received, and ANC deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa relieved any lingering tension when he formally thanked “her excellency President Banda of Malawi” and then paused before repeating “Yes, Malawi!” to general laughter.
“Today President Banda has freed everyone to say Malawi with great ease and President (Zuma) you can now say Malawi with the greatest of ease,” Ramaphosa added.
There was more laughter during Zuma’s own keynote address when he thanked everyone who had spoken before, and giggled when he mentioned the Malawi head of state.
Zuma’s original comment in October had resulted in South Africa’s ambassador to Lilongwe being summoned to explain the president’s remarks.